Afghan women footballers who escaped the Taliban want to be a voice for the voiceless 2022-04-28 03:47:00


“They were hitting our parents, our family members, our teammates,” Fatima, a spokeswoman for the Afghan women’s soccer team, told CNN Sport. “You didn’t know if you would survive or die soon.”

The scene being described is the fall of Kabul in 2021 and the frantic rush out of Afghanistan before the Taliban take full control of the country.

Women and girls were especially at risk, as they believed that the future could simply look ahead to their eyes. “You lose your dreams in the blink of an eye,” Fatima added.

Earlier this year, the United Nations warned that “every man, woman and child in Afghanistan may face extreme poverty,” while in March the Taliban reneged on their long-awaited promise to allow girls above grade six to return to school.

The Afghan women’s soccer team is a group of strong, independent women who knew they would be in the crosshairs of the Taliban. They were desperate to escape as fear and panic swept Kabul last year as the city teetered on the edge of a precipice.

Their achievements of which they are so proud, and all that they have worked for, suddenly turn into a radiance; Social media accounts have been deleted and soccer jerseys, shoes, medals and prizes have been burned.

For some, the elevated position of their positions could have been fatal.

At least one member of the team was identified in the crowd outside the airport. He heard someone say, “Look, there’s a player from the Afghan national football team.” To save their lives, players had to lie to the Taliban and deny it.

They spent two days hiding outside the airport, and another two days before they boarded C-130 transport planes that would airlift them to safety.

They got out in time – 48 hours later, a suicide bomber killed about 180 people, including 13 American soldiers and women. CNN was told that some US military personnel killed in the blast helped rescue the players.

But it was the moment the aircraft wheels left the ground as these giant human lifeboats blasted into the sky, the emotions on the players crashed into the waves.

When Fatima was asked about the feelings that occurred during that trip, she visibly retracted and excused herself from the interview.

“Your question is very deep,” she explains, “Once she adjusts to herself, we have left everything behind. You know you’ll never have those things you had before. You don’t know your future. You say goodbye to your country you grew up in.” And your childhood moments, and the many memories.”

Many were forced to leave their families behind to an unknown fate, and for some players, the weight of their guilt at that moment was overwhelming.

These Afghan women footballers are adjusting to a new life in Australia.

It’s been eight months since the Afghan players were flown to safety and many of them found themselves in Melbourne, Australia.

For some sports fans, Melbourne is the capital of the world, home to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Australian Open tennis championships, and the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground. But for these Afghan players, it is simply their new home.

Melbourne Victory Football Club has taken the Afghan team under its wing and is providing facilities and training to maximize their potential.

Director of Football John Didulica explained the team’s sporting opportunities and the goal of playing a World Cup qualifying match one day, but stressed that it is an essentially humanitarian program for now.

“My number one hope is for a better life, they have very complex personal situations and if football can help them get a foothold in Australian life then that is our ultimate goal,” Didolika told CNN Sport.

“Football has this overwhelming responsibility to support, not only its participants, but the best humanity and the best in people

“And I think this team is a totem, in a sense, for a lot of the good that we see in football. They deserve everything the game can give them.”

Australia's Melbourne Victory Football Club and Director of Football John Didyuleka (bottom right) have supported the Afghan women players.

While she had to make major adjustments in her life, Fatima says she discovered something she wasn’t expecting: peace and security.

She explained, “I had never felt that before in Afghanistan, I was afraid of many things. [But] I found it here, quiet moments. I said: That’s it. you are alive. I did it.’”

“Australia is a multicultural country,” defender Marsol told CNN Sport. “They accept all kinds of people. They don’t ask us, ‘Are you a Muslim?’” Are you christian? That’s a good thing and Australians are good people. I love him. “

However, life is still complicated. Reserve guard, Muntaha, fled Afghanistan holding her 15-year-old brother’s hand tightly.

Now, she is responsible for taking care of herself, raising her brother, working, studying and trying to keep her dream of playing international football.

At least she is surrounded by role models that she would not have imagined in Afghanistan.

“Women play better football here than men, it was like a magical thing! [more] stronger than men. It was the happiest thing for me.”

It remains unclear whether the Afghan women will be able to compete as an international team in exile.
At the end of April, the Afghan national team played their first match together since escaping last August. In one of their last training sessions, the players were reunited with their former coach, American Haley Carter.

As a former Marine, Carter was one of the team’s guardian angels, pulling strings and working the back canals to get them out safely.

“It’s exciting to see them on the pitch again,” Carter said. “There is this sense of optimism and hope for what the future will bring.”

She believes that the team’s revival is a powerful moment that transcends them all.

“The Afghan women’s national team plays for everyone. Every woman, every athlete, every sport, even non-athletes. They represent the strength of the women of Afghanistan, the strength and resilience of the women of Afghanistan.

“It’s a reminder to women, everywhere, that collectively we can do whatever we set our minds to, and we are stronger than others might think.”

But as with so many other aspects of their story, it’s bittersweet for Carter.

She couldn’t help but think of the players who couldn’t make it out, the families that were left behind and the military who gave their lives to save so many others. “It’s heavy,” Carter admits. “There’s this heft that attaches to things.”

As they adjust to their new life in Australia, the fun of playing soccer provides Afghan women soccer players with an important launch.

“The Courage to Stay Strong”

There is still a lot of uncertainty for this team and these players.

It remains unclear if FIFA will allow them to play under the flag and name of Afghanistan and compete as an international team in exile. But whatever happens, there is no doubting the efficacy of their very existence.

“Nothing can stop us,” Muntaha declared defiantly. “We want to show the Taliban that we will never stop.”

“The Taliban don’t allow girls to go to school or university. We want to be a voice for the voiceless still in Afghanistan, and we want to assure the Taliban that they can never change anything.”

Muntaha says the spirit in the team is stronger than ever and they definitely need to be strong for each other now.

Amid the smiles and laughter on the field, it would be easy to overlook the huge toll their ordeal has taken. Everyone started from scratch, some don’t speak English, birthdays without their families are tough, and parents’ meetings at school are painful reminders of the absence of loved ones.

Fatima says she does her best to lift her teammates whenever they are feeling down.

“I try to be helpful and give her the courage to stay strong. Be positive that one day your parents will be by your side, and they will celebrate your day.”

Haley Carter (top left photo) helped Afghan women loitering to escape the Taliban at the hands of the Americans.  In April 2016, Carter joined the Afghanistan women's national team as an assistant coach.

‘I hope for a lot’

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for this team of players, but as individuals, in their own lives, they must look for themselves.

Fatima says she dreams of being a businesswoman. “I’m trying to make it happen,” she said excitedly. “Every day encouraged me to stay positive and work harder. I will feel more powerful.”

Carter has no doubts that a bright future awaits them all.

“The sky is the limit for this group, they have clearly proven to everyone that they can do incredible things.”

She acknowledges that some face personal challenges in adjusting to new life in a new country, and was involved in one such conversation.

“She’s frustrated that she started her life from scratch. I told her, ‘Think of all the opportunities that presents you now.’” You can do anything you want. It’s the beginning of the rest of your life, so dream big!”